Your job is a likely source of stress, but you’re not powerless to the effects of stress at work. Effectively coping with job stress can benefit both your professional and personal life. Here’s help taking charge.
Identify your stress triggers
Your personality, experiences and other unique characteristics all influence the way you respond to and cope with stress. Situations and events that are distressing for your colleagues might not bother you in the least. Or you might be particularly sensitive to certain stressors that don’t seem to bother other people.
To begin coping with stress at work, identify your stress triggers.
For a week or two, record the situations, events and people who cause you to have a negative physical, mental or emotional response. Include a brief description of each situation, answering questions such as:
- Where were you?
- Who was involved?
- What was your reaction?
- How did you feel?
Then evaluate your stress inventory. You might find obvious causes of stress, such as the threat of losing your job, uncertainty about the future or obstacles with a particular project. You might not feel like you’re in control of decisions in your job or you may have been given unclear expectations. You might also notice subtle but persistent causes of stress, such as a long commute or an uncomfortable workspace. Or maybe you work from home and are feeling stressed trying to integrate work and life, such as personal and family needs, while working. Perhaps learning new technology for communication or working in unfamiliar locations is adding to your stress.
Tackle your stress triggers
Once you’ve identified your stress triggers, consider each situation or event and look for ways to resolve it.
Suppose, for instance, that you’re behind at work because you have to pick up your son from school. You might check with other parents or neighbors about an after-school carpool. Or you might begin work earlier, shorten your lunch hour or take work home to catch up in the evening.
Often, the best way to cope with stress is to find a way to change the circumstances that are causing it.
Sharpen your time management skills
In addition to addressing specific stress triggers, it’s often helpful to improve time management skills — especially if you tend to feel overwhelmed or under pressure at work. For example:
- Set realistic goals. Work with colleagues and leaders to set realistic expectations and deadlines. Set regular progress reviews and adjust your goals as needed.
- Make a priority list. Prepare a list of tasks and rank them in order of priority. Throughout the day, scan your master list and work on tasks in priority order. Say no if you don’t have time to do a task.
- Protect your time. For an especially important or difficult project, block time to work on it without interruption. Also, break large projects into smaller steps.
When your job is stressful, it can feel as if it’s taking over your life. To maintain perspective:
- Get other points of view. Talk with trusted colleagues, family or friends about the issues you’re facing at work and your feelings. They might be able to provide insights or offer coping suggestions. Sometimes simply talking about a stressor can be a relief.
- Take a break. Make the most of workday breaks. Even a few minutes of personal time during a busy workday can be refreshing. Similarly, take time off when you can, whether it’s a two-week vacation or an occasional long weekend. Taking time to relax can help you have more energy when you return to work.
- Have an outlet. To prevent burnout, set aside time for activities you enjoy — such as reading, meeting with friends or pursuing a hobby. Try keeping a journal.
- Take care of yourself. Be vigilant about taking care of your health. Include physical activity in your daily routine, get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet. Try relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness techniques and deep breathing. Go outside for a walk.
- Make boundaries. Try to make small steps toward setting boundaries between work and your life, such as not checking email in the evenings or weekends, not going back to your computer in the evening, or keeping a standard work schedule. And set aside time when you don’t use your phone or computer, such as not checking email, texts or social media.
Know when to seek help
If none of these steps relieves your feelings of job stress or burnout, consult a mental health provider — either on your own or through an employee assistance program offered by your employer. Through counseling, you can learn effective ways to handle job stress.